It was about three in the afternoon by the time he reached Bradford City Interchange: the Plod would be on their way and he was wearing a simple white blouse over a blue satin camisole with a clerical grey skirt. He was the only running and his actual innocence meant nothing in the heavy commuter traffic. At least the boots had low heels. With a disregard borne of panic he boarded the nearest shuttle clutching the satchel and tried to look nonchalant as he took a seat in the plain compartment.
Everything he owned was now in that simple green canvas bag, worn around the edges and with frayed stitching, which was a strange enough thought without considered how he was dressed in public. The wig helped detract attention from the fact that he hadn’t had time to shave properly but there was no chance that he would pass under anything more than a cursory glance. With no sign of his pursuers on the platform, Ben heaved a grateful sigh as the train shunted into motion.
“So,” and the word destroyed his self-congratulation, “Do you always dress like that?”
“Ah...” he looked across that the woman to see her smirking. “No. This is... an unusual situation,” he finished lamely. A glance confirmed that there were no other surprises in the form of missed fellow passengers.
“I see.” Her face was suddenly serious but something around her eyes remained playful. “Are you some kind of queer then?”
At first he was taken aback, then horrified at the realisation that a deep-seated fear was being voiced and then he felt strangely in control and at peace. “No. No, quite the opposite.” He was even smiling. “I don’t suppose you’d care to find out how much?” Great, he thought, I’m on the run, cross-dressed and now I decide I’m a latter-day Casanova?
“Sorry, cat, you aren’t quite my type.”
“Pity,” he found himself replying, “You are rather pretty.” Oh come on! “I guess that makes you my type.”
“You often speak in clichés from the flicks, sweetheart?” Her head was cocked, her eyebrows raised, something was drawing her in.
“Only when the situation calls for it.” Maybe it was the clothes, the wig, or the fact that he’d clambered down a concrete block of flats already but something made the ridiculous situation not only bearable but almost comfortable. “What about you?”
“Don’t get me wrong,” she smiled again, it was a pretty one, “You’re still not my type, but I think you’re going to like me.”
“Pardon me?” He was fairly certain that this wasn’t how these sorts of conversations were supposed to go. “Aren’t you going to like me?”
“Isn’t that how-?”
“You didn’t answer my question, chicken,” she assumed a more business-like air, “But maybe I should have made myself more clear. Why is someone who isn’t a queer dressed like that?”
“I’m...” He considered lying but nothing plausible came to him. “I’m on the run from the Plod.”
“Really? Well that-”
She was interrupted by the door to the compartment sliding open. A blue-uniformed ticket inspector entered, looking intently at his counter. “Tickets and ID, please.” His eyes flashed once on the woman but seemed to fix on Ben.
“Here,” began the woman, a little forcefully, “It should all be in order.”
He took her proffered documents, “There’s no-”
“No, I know,” she waved he outstretched hand at him. “Does this cover it?”
Dubiously, he took the coins, “I-”
“I don’t need any change, he’s with me.”
Ben opened his mouth to speak, as the ticket inspector grumbled to himself and rolled off the small paper chits, but the woman shushed him with a look. “Two singles.” They were pointedly handed directly to the woman without another glance at Ben. “Good day.” And the door slid shut again.
A moment passed.
“What did you do that for?” Ben was incredulous.
“Did he check your ID?”
“No, but he knows that I’m dressed in drag like some circus freak!”
“You’re on the run from the Plod, right?”
Uncertainly: “Uh, yes.”
“So they’ll be looking for you,” she stared directly at him, “And that means checking for any sign of you on any public transport. That means asking people if they remember your ID papers. It won’t hold them up for long,” she smiled with genuine amusement, “but it will make their lives that little bit more difficult.”
He didn’t like it, but Ben had to concede her logic worked.
“Now, here’s your ticket, Princess,” she handed him the red card chit as if explaining to a child, “You’ll need it to get off the platform.”
A moment’s hesitation before Ben was able to move and take it. He was rewarded with another smile. “Thank you.”
“Oh, you’ll pay me back, this isn’t a free ride.” Crossing her arms, she sat back in the seat.
“No, not for the ticket.” His hands shook as he fumbled in his bag for change, “Just... thank you.”
She took the two five pence coins offered. “I didn’t mean for the ticket.” There was something almost predatory about her as she placed them in her purse. “Don’t go on about it.” The train began to slow down on the approach to the platform. “Have you somewhere to stay?”
“I’ve never been to Leeds before,” turning back from the window he caught her eye again, “And I think you’ve done enough for me. Thank you, but you’re going to be in enough trouble as it is.”
“And?” Unimpressed. “You don’t know anything about me.” She looked back out of the window. “Look, stay with me tonight, at the very least I can fix your wardrobe.”
“I can buy my own shirt and trou-”
“They’re looking for a man travelling alone, right? And I’m guessing they don’t know about your little fetish. So let’s use this to our advantage and make it that little bit harder for them, no?” A mischievous grin crawled across her face as she fixed him with a stare again. “Name’s Iris, sweetness, you?”
“Ben-” He stopped and looked down. “That’s not going to work. Rebecca?”
“Oh yes, let’s go with that one! Bex it is.”
“Do I get a choice in shortening it?” The train juddered to a halt.
“No. Should you?”
“I assume you’re not called Iris either.”